Friday, October 09, 2009


THERE has been a series of interventions in the imbroglio between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) but none has raised so much hope as the latest by the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, a veteran trade unionist and former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
His intervention and the promise of renewed negotiations between the ASUU and the Federal Government raise a number of salient issues about the nature of leadership at the Federal Government level and the calibre of the President's appointed advisers. For over three months, it has been beyond the ability of the government's experts to proffer a solution to a festering problem that strikes at the very foundation of Nigeria's human resource development and capacity building mechanism. It is more worrying to realise that this has been a recurrent problem that has become over the years a typical Nigerian malaise.
It is a curious irony that earlier interventions of the Committees of Vice Chancellors (CVC), Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors, all deriving from the system, have been insufficient to enable government seize on some rare wisdom and understanding. This is apart from whatever advice professional experts would have had to offer, filtering the experience of other nations and our own past experience. Whether or not the Federal Government accepts the proposition, it has taken the intervention of Mr. Oshiomhole from outside the Federal structure, to draw government out of its shell.
In the first place, the initial decision of the Federal Government to call off the talks with ASUU was most baffling; ASUU members are not just citizens of Nigeria, but also direct custodians at a high level, of the country's capacity building process. The ASUU strike is a matter the government should not have consigned to a lackadaisical treatment given our critical need for capacity building and a first step to demonstrate that it is not just paying lip-service to Vision 20:2020 objectives.
Students in public universities have now stayed at home for a period equivalent to a whole semester. Although there is now strong hope for rapprochement between ASUU and the Federal Government, but so far all we can see is an abatement of ill-feeling between the two main parties to the dispute. The new window of opportunity offered by Governor Oshiomhole's intervention should therefore be fully explored.
Let it be clear to the Federal government what the people of this country expect from it. Their children are not supposed to come out of the universities half-baked and unemployed, as only the children of presidents, legislators, professors, businessmen and in general those who can afford overseas training cream off the good jobs, leaving those from the middle class and the poor in a lurch. Nigerians are interested in quality education for their children, and an education sector that is empowered in every respect to serve that purpose. Government should go on talking with ASUU, exploring all facets of negotiation to pull through a solution that will bring peace to our campuses, an elementary peace that is taken for granted in other countries. ASUU, on its part, must also take advantage of the resumption of negotiations to push its case without necessarily being belligerent.
It is hoped, nevertheless, that government is learning some lessons from this impasse. Less than a decade ago, this country went through a grotesque ASUU-Federal Government dispute that resulted in six months of university closure and intermittent stoppages that affected the career of students. Such incidents always ended in due course as if nothing happened and yet the effect on our educational system has been incalculably disastrous.
Government should be careful not to be seen to be obstinately insensitive to a strategic sector such as education, for, what is at stake ultimately, is the future of Nigeria.